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VON MISES LIVED a long life—from 1881 to 1973. He was born within the
borders of the huge European empire of
Mises was prolific. He wrote many books and articles. He traveled and lectured widely throughout Europe and gained an international reputation as a strong advocate of capitalism and an ardent critic of interventionism. However, Mises’s teachings were drowned out for many years by the overwhelming popularity of John Maynard Keynes, Keynes’s macroeconomic doctrines, and his proposals for government intervention and politically expedient spending programs.
Anyone who is familiar with Mises’s other writings will not find anything particularly surprising in this book. Mises frequently criticized the various aspects of government intervention and he often described how government intervention interferes with the attempts of individuals to accomplish their various goals. However, in none of his other writings does he explain government intervention and its consequences more clearly and simply than he does here.
Mises wrote Interventionism: An Economic Analysis in his native German tongue. After it had been translated by Drs. Thomas McManus and Heinrich Bund, he considered it “ready for publication.” However, apparently nothing was done about the manuscript and it disappeared from view. When this project came to nought, Mises, of necessity, turned his efforts toward other writing and lecturing. In 1944, his Bureaucracy and Omnipotent Government were published. In 1945, he received an appointment as Visiting Professor at New York University Graduate School of Business Administration and began teaching again. Then in 1946, he joined the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education as a part-time adviser. Many other books followed, including especially his magnum opus, Human Action, in 1949.
This book, Interventionism, was
written in 1940, before the
Throughout his career, Mises pointed out that individuals face risk and uncertainty in their struggle to survive. They encounter many obstacles—both natural and man-made. Natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, avalanches, and fires may disrupt their plans. Man-made catastrophes such as wars, theft, fraud, and government interventions may also disrupt their plans. With respect to the obstacles nature places in their paths, men have no alternative but to cope as best they can. With respect to man-made obstacles, however, the situation is different; men are not completely helpless; they have the capability of avoiding and/or removing them.
In explaining how the market functions, Mises criticized man-made government interventions—controls, regulations, restrictions, special privileges, and subsidies for some at the expense of others. He always pointed out, as he does in this book, that although enacted with the best of intentions, such government interventions lead to conditions that even their advocates consider worse than those they were trying to alleviate. However, he also explained that such obstacles, being man-made, were avoidable and removable—once people came to realize that government should not interfere with peaceful interpersonal relationships.
Mises also pointed out that government’s role should be limited. Government should protect equally the lives and property of all persons under its jurisdiction. It should adjudicate disputes among individuals so as to assure, insofar as possible, equal justice to all. Otherwise, it should leave people free to work out their own destinies. We are fortunate indeed that this manuscript, which explains in such clear terms these basic principles, has resurfaced from among the papers left at Mises’s death and is now being made available.—Bettina Bien Greaves
In spite of the similar title, Mises’s Critique of Interventionism (1929; English translation, 1977) is a very different book from this one. That book is an anthology of articles criticizing the doctrines and proposals of specific interventionists of the 1920s; this book is a clear and simple exposition of the theory of government intervention.